The Washington Post

Alice McDermott on being a novelist and a believer

(Ron Charles/Washington Post) (Ron Charles/The Washington Post)

This Saturday, great weather, a fantastic line-up of authors and word-of-mouth publicity combined to create the most successful Gaithersburg Book Festival in its five-year-old history. Attendance figures are not yet available, but the packed tents certainly suggested that more people than ever before had discovered the festival, held on the grounds of the Gaithersburg City Hall.

The line of children and parents waiting to get books signed by Rachel Renée Russell serpentined across the entire lawn. And Politics & Prose Bookstore quickly sold out of copies of Anthony Marra’s “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena.”

One of the highlights for me was hearing Alice McDermott talk about changing attitudes toward literary novelists who are religious and who write about people of faith.

Fifteen years ago, when she told interviewers she was a practicing Roman Catholic, she could feel them thinking, “Oh, I thought you were an intellectual. Well, I guess not.” Nowadays, she finds much less of that condescension — possibly because of the influence of Pope Francis. “It’s getting a little bit more hip to be Catholic,” she says. “For me, having characters who are part of a faith then allows me to talk about how that faith either works or fails them without having to attack the institution.”

Here’s more:

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.



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